Illinois coach Bruce Weber is going through growing pains with his young team. Each game presents new challenges to overcome, new lessons to learn. He is pleased the Illini can win while going through that process.
"It was pretty obvious we struggled with their quickness. Not as much in the full court as in the half court. They disrupted our cutting, our screening, our passes, reading the defense.
"All these games are good for us. We need experience and maturity, and the only way to get that is go through these. You always want it a little smoother, a little better."
D. J. Richardson continued his confident play, hitting 7 of 12 shots including 3 treys to lead the Illini with 17 points. The Illini are a better team when he is confident and shooting well. He downplayed his success afterward.
"I just try to score within the offense and stay within my personality. I was feeling comfortable, and I'm trying to keep up my confidence for the rest of the season."
Richardson is going the extra mile, and Weber is happy to use him as a positive example for the rest of his team.
"The last couple weeks, he's put a lot of time in the gym. He came early yesterday, he came early today. He stayed late after our meeting last night. I love it because I can keep harping to our other guys, 'Look what's happening.'
"Our message for this week is a quote you always hear: 'The will to win is not important. It's the will to prepare.' That's a maturity thing. D.J. is starting to figure that out. He's been very motivated, very dedicated. I'm glad he's getting positive results out of it."
Sam Maniscalco started and played 22 minutes at the point. He scored 15 points, handed out 3 assists and had two steals in his best outing as an Illini. Weber is trying to get him into shape slowly as he continues his recovery from ankle surgery.
"He led us on the MATTO, which is pretty good for 22 minutes and probably not being as athletic as some other guys. He had some pretty solid numbers: 4 of 7, 6 of 6 from the line, three assists. He hasn't played in 9 months either."
Brandon Paul broke out of an early season slump with 12 points. He also contributed 3 assists. Still, Weber knows Paul has much more in him.
"I thought Brandon responded after halftime. I told Brandon he has a chance to be special, but he's got to make that decision to have that mindset."
Joseph Bertrand had by far his best game as an Illini, scoring 11 point and leading the team with 8 boards.
"Joe Bertrand really gave us a great second half. He almost has a double-double. He's very versatile.,P>The Illini out rebounded the smaller Bisons 43 to 33. Besides Bertrand, Mike Shaw grabbed 7 boards, Tyler Griffey had 6 and Meyers Leonard added 5 in 12 foul-troubled minutes. Leonard registered 2 blocks to go with his 8 points. Nnanna Egwu scored only four points, but he grabbed four boards and blocked 4 Lipscomb shots.
Crandall Head saw his first action of the year. He threw two beautiful lob passes to Paul for dunks, but he also led the team with 4 turnovers in 11 minutes.
The Illini have a lot to learn, especially reducing their 21 turnovers, many of which were unforced. But Weber reminds he doesn't have to harp constantly on playing hard.
"The one thing we haven't had to do is coach effort and attitude. I thought our effort was not quite there at halftime. We ended with 45 on the MATTO, and I think 30 were in the second half. So we picked it up."
The Illini continue the Cancun Challenge in Cancun, Mexico, Tuesday night against Richmond. They have minimal time to prepare for a complex offensive and defensive style.
"We've got to deal with a whole different style of play in Richmond, who runs the Princeton system. We have to prepare for them to know how to guard them."